Mesquita and Smith 3-13-17 Blog Post

Democracies typically tend to provide better governance over their citizens than authoritarian regimes because unlike authoritarian regimes they do not rely on a small coalition. Rather, democracies incorporate a larger ruling coalition which provides for a fairer and more legitimate system of authority that is concerned with its citizens. Authoritarian regimes, however, require an “off-balance” coalition that lacks the legitimacy of the check and balances schema of democracies. Moreover, smaller coalitions such as those found among authoritarian systems tend to rely heavily upon the loyalty of their supporters through intimidation. Meaning, it is intimidation or force which supports these coalitions not legitimate participation and authority in governmental election and so on. Thus, “The best way to stay in power is to keep the coalition small and, crucially, to make sure that everyone in it knows that there are plenty of replacements for them.” (Mesquita and Smith, pg. 61) It is not surprising, then, that these kinds of coalitions and positions of power promote an illegitimate election process in which elections are often rigged. A larger coalition, however, to some degree, promotes legitimacy and democracies are often more concerned with their citizens needs and are willing to allocate resources which elevate their citizen’s status rather than keep them in a subordinate role. To make an authoritarian regime more democratic, then, it is necessary to provide those resources which have been denied to citizens of an authoritarian system. For instance, an increase in education often serves as a popular example for how citizens can gain power and influence within their government.

Pepinsky and Snyder 4-17-17 Blog Post

Pepinsky’s vision of authoritarian rule seems to suggest that the way in which Americans perceive authoritarianism is often highly exaggerated and “fantastical or cartoonish”. (Pepinsky) Thus, he is suggesting that life under authoritarian rule is much more passive or discreet than one might think. In the U.S, we typically look at authoritarianism as overtly oppressive and focus our attention solely on the cruelty of authoritarian leaders without consideration for the day to day interactions with ordinary citizens and their government. It is interesting, then, that Pepinsky suggests that “Life under authoritarian rule looks a lot like democracy.”(Pepinsky) He even goes as far as to suggest that it is both “boring and tolerable.”  This is certainly a different image of authoritarianism than we are used to. Nonetheless, his studies in Malaysia prove this point to be true. His argument, then, can be summarized in a lengthy but important quote, “Most Americans conceptualize a hypothetical end of American democracy in Apocalyptic terms. But actually,you usually learn that you are no longer living in a democracy not because The Government Is Taking Away Your Rights, or passing laws that you oppose, or because there is a coup or a quisling. You know that you are no longer living in a democracy because the elections in which you are participating no longer can yield political change.” (Pepinsky) I think he is suggesting, then, that the destruction of democracy will be silent but deadly. Meaning, it will not end with an explosive solitary event but with a “whimper” as he puts it, in which belief in the system of democracy is no longer supported.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, Snyder holds a very different view of authoritarian rule. Unlike Pepinsky, his argument seems to draw upon the effects of polarization between the left and right, the government and the governed. He, therefore, describes a charismatic ruler who has the support of police and military authority whom he instructs to threaten or harass the opposition. Moreover, under the authority of this individual people did not truly have a voice, rather, “He said he spoke for his people, that he was their voice.” (Snyder) However, there is an apparent disconnect between the authority of the government over its citizens and the needs of the citizens themselves. In other words, “Among much of the ordinary citizenry there was a certain faith that the political elite had matters under control. Among the elite there was a certain faith that state institutions would somehow protect themselves, that the rule of law and administrative habit would somehow maintain themselves.” (Snyder) Nevertheless, ordinary citizens continue to support their leader. In this scenario, however, the system failed as a response to the polarizing effects of a terrorist attack, “He blamed the left, banned its parties, and had its leaders put in camps. A state of emergency was declared and never lifted. A one-party state emerged. The division of powers vanished.” (Snyder)

Based on the position of these two authors, I would say that Snyder’s vision of authoritarian rule is more likely in nations such as Europe and the U.S. My main justification for this would be that if we are assuming that democracy in these nations is threatened to some extent by polarization, globalization, the decline of manufacturing employment, the rise of populism, and highly partisan media, Snyder’s vision, then, seems to address these issues more directly than Pepinsky. Specifically, within the case of the U.S, I would say that I am not entirely convinced that our democracy would end with a “whimper” as Snyder puts it. I think if authoritarianism were to replace our democracy it would be through intense polarization and other issues listed above. Again, however, I may be wrong.

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times Blog Post 4-10-17

In regards to the most recent election in the United States I would say that the polarization between the left and the right is relatively clear. Moreover, we do certainly see more and more participation in the political realm and some engagement in political conflict from civil society. However, I don’t know if I would go as far as to say that the reactions towards Hillary’s loss and Trump’s victory have shifted ‘mass’ allegiances. There are many individuals who have certainly shifted from being system-supporters to being disruptors, particularly, because they have lost all hope in the system in response to Trump’s presidency. Moreover, many people pledged to leave the U.S altogether if Trump won. However, on a massive scale people have accepted the results of the election and continue to work together to do what is best for the country and to promote its stability. Nevertheless, protest movements such as “Not My President” embrace political and civic participation and work to thwart the effects of Trump’s hateful and prejudiced policies as they see them. I think there are certainly tensions within the country right now between the right and the left but I do not perceive this as leading to any dramatic breakdown of our democracy. Moreover, Bermeo draws important distinctions between polarization in public and private arenas when she says, “We must distinguish between the highly visible polarization of civic groups in public spaces and the less visible polarization of opinion expressed in elections and in polls.” (Bermeo, pg. 20) I think there is no doubt that there is a clear divide between the two parties right now and that individuals have been motivated by the results of the election to become more politically or socially engaged. However, I’m not certain that this alone is enough to breakdown democracy. Nevertheless, I could be completely wrong as tensions continue to develop more and more in response to changing policies. I do agree, however, that ordinary people do play a significant role in this process either positively or negatively.

What Do Chinese People Want? Is it Democracy? 4-3-17 Blog Post

I would say that the role of the Chinese civil society in providing a measure of “voice” for Chinese citizens is successful in promoting the legitimacy and political power of the CCP to the extent that it encourages “consultation without accountability.” (Dickinson, pg. 97) In other words, the dynamic between society and government becomes such that citizens feel as if their worries and concerns are not only taken seriously by the state, but that the state is actively involved and committed to reforming policies which will improve their lives. However, in a sense, you need only to dangle the bait long enough to catch the fish. Meaning, there is an underlying motivation behind the government’s willingness to consult with the public on social issues. That motivation, then, is to strengthen the authority of the government by limited means of societal support. Thus, the concept of the “mass line” results in a unique form of authoritarianism which Dickinson refers to as “consultative authoritarianism.” Dickinson describes this strategy as, “a system that includes consultation in a selective manner, but remains distinctly authoritarian without direct accountability of the state to society.” (Dickinson, pg. 103) It is, therefore, a similar approach to maintaining power and legitimacy that we have examined earlier in the semester. That is, a government’s ability to provide limited means and participation to its citizens while enhancing the authority of a government’s control over its citizens and thus shaping their reaction to that governance.

Blog Post 3/20 Voting Fraud, How to Rig an Election

The articles by Campbell and Gist each contain examples of electoral fraud in places like Louisville and Adam’s County where issues of voter intimidation, the secret ballot, purchasing of votes, abuse of police authority, and many other methods of electoral fraud greatly disfranchised African Americans and other groups. In Louisville, specifically, manipulation by the ruling Democratic party in which democrats actively sought to thwart the republican vote or more directly the votes of African Americans, presented itself in the form of false registration, phantom voting by the support of police and firemen, and the theft of registration books by drugging individuals to name a few. In both Louisville and Adams County we see the effect of electoral fraud in disfranchising voters, however, what is worse for democracy? Fraud that adds to a candidate’s vote total or fraud that suppresses an opponent’s vote total?

My first inclination is to say that fraud which suppresses an opponent’s vote total is worse for democracy. A quote I found particularly interesting in Campbell’s reading is, “Reducing the turnout was as critical to stealing the election as was intimidating voters and falsely registering others.” (Campbell, pg. 280) However, both have the same desired effect of manipulating the vote and suppressing certain groups or parties to cater to another. Each method also equally infringes on the right of voters and the right to a clean and fair electoral process necessary for democracy. The Shapiro article, however, provides a good example of the use of election fraud in which Matthew Weaver added to the total of his vote by stealing personal information and committing identity theft in which he voted or re-voted on other’s behalves. It makes it difficult for me to say that one is definitively worse than the other, then, as I can see how both could be detrimental to democracy. Thus, I do not know which is worse, being kept from voting in which you completely lack a say in the election process, or having your identity stolen in which someone registers on your behalf to add to a candidates total or creates a false identity all together?

American Democracy and the Racial State 2-28-17

“The Abolition of White Democracy” by Joel Olson suggests that race and the construction of a racial state had largely influenced democratization in the U.S during the antebellum period. Thus, he looks at the mobs of this time and the riots they ensued as a reflection of the varying perspectives of democracy. Furthermore, he examines the role of democratic citizenship in racial terms suggesting that citizenship was granted to whites and further maintained the color bar. The author is therefore arguing that citizenship came to be defined in terms of white citizens and wholly disregarded black men and women. Moreover, he suggests that the whites had impeded opportunities for basic equality which in effect had greatly damaged the operation of democracy in the U.S. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the authors argument that race had been invented and ultimately structured through citizenship. Thus, resulting in the privilege of the white race. A primary component of citizenship, then, came to be the position that one holds in society. Slaves and women, therefore, were equated with non-citizenship whereas white men were “natural” citizens. Ultimately, then, the correlation between democracy and race can be defined by saying, “White citizenship represents the democratization of social status, extending it from the upper class to the masses by transforming it from a perk of wealth to a perk of race.” (Olson, pg. 44) Thus, Olson proposed that the privilege of the white citizen became an issue for democracy.

Defining Democracy in the Post-Revolutionary Era: Holton and Bouton Reading 2-20-17

The readings for today by Holton and Bouton seem to suggest that the economic situation of the early republic was one of great social and political dissension. Both articles attempt to divulge the tensions between the wealthy creditors or bond holding elite and the lower rural class or debtors. Holton specifically identifies the economic crisis of the Revolutionary war and the massive debt it ensued. Thus, he suggests that the creditors had begun to excessively tax farmers to the extent that their livelihood was no longer manageable. Therefore, rural families suffered immensely and oftentimes the familial unit was disrupted or even destroyed by the heavy burden of financial hardship. However, these farmers did not sit back and do nothing. Rather, they sought to resolve the issue of economic inequality by means of closing the courts, urging the assemblies for aid, pleading for the eradication of debts as well as governmental security, and the advancement toward paper currency. Thus, it seems as if the ruling elite were exploiting the farmers whose subsistence depended primarily upon agriculture, trade, and market exchange, through heavy taxation in order to resolve the war debt. Similarly, the article by Bouton discusses the economic crisis with which the rural community is facing and examines the active opposition of these communities to the creditors. Thus, the farmers attempted to cease foreclosures and heavy taxes as they saw these economic restrictions to be an impediment to their political freedom. The elite creditors on the other hand, seemed fundamentally concerned with keeping the rural class down and stomping out any opposition toward their economic predominance.

Islam and Democracy, Theory and Practice 2-13-17

The readings for today have posited strong arguments for both the compatibility and incompatibility of Islam and Democracy. In his article, “Islam and Democracy: The Impossible Union” Taheri is adamantly opposed to the idea that Islam and Democracy can be in any way compatible. For him, there is a stark contrast between the equality of Democracy and the doctrine of Islam. Thus, he argues that the very term ‘democracy’ bares no meaning in the languages of Islam and consequently the history of Islamic tradition. Rather, there is a religious hierarchy among not only the religions of the world in comparison to Islam, but also within Islam among common Muslims and the religious elite. Moreover, only God is sovereign and therefore capable of ruling over man whereas Democracy governs the people by the people. Dr. Kendhammer’s “Muslims Talking Politics” however presents an array of information and support for both the compatibility and incompatibility of Islam and Democracy focusing explicitly on the relationship between Sharia and religious morality for effective government. Moreover, he constructs interviews with a diverse set of Sokoto residents in Nigeria to discuss the relationship between Sharia and Democracy to better understand the expectation of Democracy in these Muslim communities. Thus, he discusses the diversity of thought within Muslim communities concerning not only Sharia and Democracy but the varied interpretations of Islamic doctrine and religious morality as it pertains to government and its citizens. I, then, would suggest that the question is not so much whether Islam is compatible with Democracy but to what extent do we incorporate religion and religious morality into governmental policies? In other words, does religion play a role in government and where do we draw the line between religious ethical institutions and individual freedoms and liberties? Moreover, given the diversity of opinions surrounding this issue it is therefore important that we do not wholly generalize Islam but look to the specific context in which Democracy is desired and how to best implement the expectations and values of democracy which a society may be seeking.

Are there democratic preconditions? Modernization and Economic Arguments 2-6-17

Based on the readings by Lipset and Huntington I surmise that wealthier societies do have some advantage in crafting and sustaining stable democracies. However, wealth alone cannot ensure a democracy’s stability and success. Rather, it seems to me that a variety of social and political institutions are necessary for the success of a democratic nation. Thus, while wealth has its advantages, it is not a fix all. The article by Lipset suggests that a stable democracy encapsulates particular social systems such as economic development and legitimacy. However, the social conditions with which these systems arise or fail to arise is multifaceted. Lipset argues that there are four general factors of stable democracies, “… industrialization, urbanization, wealth, and education.” (Lipset, pg. 80) Within his argument, I found the role of literacy and democracy to be most convincing. In other words, he suggests that education improves an individual’s ability to implement democratic values and to abstain from extremist ideologies brought forth in politically illegitimate societies and isolated social groups. Thus, the argument can be made that education and improved literacy requires some form of economic development and stability. At the same time, however, political, economic, and social inequality can arise within a society that has an unequal distribution of wealth and political authority. In other words, the “lower strata” as Lipset puts it, may be overpowered by the dominant wealthy class. Thus, this is a circumstance in which wealth could promote instability rather than act as a stabilizing mechanism for the institution of democracy. Furthermore, Huntington continues this idea of the need for political legitimacy and an effective bureaucracy, if democracy is to be successful. Moreover, he suggests that there is a relationship between the inequalities within the economic and political realms. In other words, “Countries with underdeveloped economies may have highly developed political systems, and countries which have achieved high levels of economic welfare may still have disorganized and chaotic politics.” ( Huntington, pg. 2) Moreover, he makes the case that development/ modernization perpetuated social and political instability by devastating preexisting political authority structures and thus causing illegitimacy. In other words, he argues that the development of political institutions have been neglected in light of the growing concern for the development of the socio-economic sphere. Thus, he suggests that this process has damaging effects on the stability of democracy. I found both of these arguments to be equally convincing especially in terms of the importance of legitimacy within the political system.

What’s a Democracy That’s Not a Democracy? 1-30-17

After reading the articles by Zakaria, Levitsky and Way, and Diamond, in regards to illiberalism, authoritarian regimes, competitive authoritarianism, and the importance of free and fair election, I surmise that hybrid institutions are in fact reminiscent of stable autocracies and therefore are not making progress toward democracy. However, my assessment is arguably a result of my Western perception of democracy. Until reading Zakaria’s article I admit that I did not know there was a fundamental difference between constitutional liberalism and democracy. Perhaps, then, I take for granted that our democracy has constitutionally inalienable rights. Zakaria asserts that more than fifty percent of the world’s countries are in fact democracies; however, he makes a conscientious effort to say that “… half of the “democratizing” countries in the world today are illiberal democracies.” (Zakaria, pg. 24) Thus, democracy and constitutional liberalism do not necessarily go hand in hand. Rather, it is less likely that democracy will bolster constitutional liberalism and more likely that democracy arises from liberalism. However, Zakaria suggests that a democracy devoid of constitutional liberalism can potentially wreak havoc and produce overpowering authorities. My basic claim for these hybrid institutions being more like stable autocracies is that a prominent theme among them appears to be an abuse of power and corruption which denies individuals free and fair election as well as equal participation. This is where Levitsky and Way’s concept of an “uneven playing field” comes in. Given our evolving definition of democracy I would say that these hybrid institutions deny the basic tenants of democracy and thus lean more toward autocratic authoritarian institutions. Nevertheless, I give leeway to my argument in regards to the democratic or undemocratic nature of hybrid regimes, as my mind is not yet made up.